The Rockwood Files: Yakety-yak

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

It happened, as I knew it would. Last Friday I waited, like always, in the line-up of cars and mini-vans outside my boys’ elementary school. When my kids’ names were called, I peered out the window to watch them run out the double-doors. But on that day, something was distinctly different about the typically joyful exit. While Adam was jogging happily toward the van, Jack was trudging slowly with his head down. “Ah,” I thought to myself. “It happened today.”

The boys climbed into the van – first Adam and then his downcast little brother. Jack, who is usually bubbling over with information about his day in kindergarten, was very quiet which only confirmed my suspicion.

“Mom, Jack has something to tell you today,” Adam said in a sing-song manner that showed he was enjoying this way too much.

“What is it, Jack?” I said, playing dumb.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said quietly.

“It’s okay, Jack. You can tell me,” I said, reassuring.

“I changed my stoplight to yellow today,” he confessed.

He handed me a small slip of paper bearing a frowning face on it that said Jack had received an official warning from his teacher for “talking too much.”

Lots of kindergarten teachers use this “stoplight system.” Green means good behavior. Yellow means you broke a rule after receiving a warning. Red means you kept making bad choices despite the warnings. Then there’s a blue light that comes out for the serious or chronic offenders, and the blue light lands you in the principal’s office where you must call your parents to explain your behavior. Yikes.

Jack’s older brother, Adam, was smiling broadly because he, too, had earned a few yellow lights during his kindergarten year and he certainly didn’t want to be outdone by his little brother. I shot Adam “the look” so he wouldn’t compound Jack’s misery.

“Jack, it’s okay. Everybody makes mistakes. You just have to try harder not to make the same mistake again.”

As we drove out of the parking lot, I glanced down at the warning slip again and smiled secretly at the words “talking too much.” This was not a mistake I would have ever made in school – not because I didn’t want to, but because I simply couldn’t. Unlike my son, I had a paralyzing shyness that dictated so much of what I did and didn’t do throughout my childhood. It robbed me of some of the fun I should have had and friends I might have made.

I have clear memories of hiding behind my mother’s legs as a little girl. I remember desperately wanting to answer questions in class as I got older but not having the guts to raise my hand and call attention to myself. As a teenager, I didn’t date until I was nearly 18 – not because I didn’t want to, but because talking to an actual boy felt like jumping off a cliff.

In some ways, my shyness steered me into writing. Voicing my opinion was nearly impossible, but I felt safe writing it all down. On paper, I was set free.

In college, I finally went to war with my shyness and gained some ground. I forced myself to take a public speaking course. Then I took a job that required me to have short conversations with customers all day long. It was brutal at first, but it got easier. Ironically, I ended up as a reporter in my early twenties and learned how to interview strangers and write about them. It was the best therapy I could have ever received.

But my boy Jack won’t have to work that hard because he is naturally outgoing and LOVES to talk. He’s the kid in the park who will approach any other kid in sight and ask if he wants to play. He is warm and engaging, and I marvel at how easily he makes friends. How did someone like him come from someone like me? The gene pool is a funny, wonderful thing sometimes.

As we pulled into our driveway, I told Jack he would have to work extra hard to remember not to talk when the teacher has asked him to be quiet. He nodded that he would do better, and he knows that making the same mistake will land him in trouble at home.

But I’ll admit there is a part of me – a part way down deep that is still connected to that terribly shy girl – who is glad and a bit relieved that my little boy has the ability and the confidence to “talk too much.”

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